Opie 2016: The Glue That Binds

From Top: Opie at LACMA, Opie at Hammer, Mapplethorpe at Getty

If you’ve gotten out to any museums in Los Angeles since January 2016, you have most certainly run into Catherine Opie’s photography. There’s been a movement of collection weaving across LA art institutions. Normally business competitors, museums have decided to join forces in order to encourage patrons to museum crawl LA. When exhibits are concurrently presented, an inherent art scene is created. Catherine Opie’s work is the glue between four major art institutions in that scene.

Exhibits can take years to plan and institutions don’t necessarily work together on their schedules, but 2016 paved the way for an umbrella of exhibits that began an LA-wide dialogue. MOCA (PDC location) opened the year with Catherine Opie: 700 Nimes Road, photographs from Elizabeth Taylor’s residence prior to and just after her death in 2011. In conjunction with this opening, The Hammer launched Catherine Opie: Portraits (closing May 22nd), a series of intimate portraits taken in front of black backdrops. MOCA and the Hammer created, what the LA Times called, an “Opie Moment.” These exhibits were hearty and comprehensive. Each focused on one series of Opie’s work and together informed an awareness of her range.

LACMA, not to be left far behind, presented Catherine Opie: O (on view through September 5th). The show, prominently listed on LACMA’s website as a Featured Exhibit, consists of six photographs mounted in the wide hallway leading towards the Photography Department. A truly small presentation, this series is part of the O Portfolio, Opie’s response to Robert Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio. LACMA plants this Opie breadcrumb as a swift segue to their concurrent presentation of Mapplethorpe’s work with the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Clockwise: Robert Mapplethorpe at Getty & LACMA; Opie wall panels at MOCA, The Hammer, LACMA

With staggered openings in mid-March, LACMA and the Getty Center unveiled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium (through July 31st). In 2011, both institutions jointly acquired materials from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and these exhibits were brought about by the well-organized presentation of their new collection. Portraits at the Getty are more deeply informed by Mapplethorpe’s personal artwork, jewelry, and altars on view at LACMA. The visual conversation started at the Getty, bounces back to LACMA, and visa versa. The exhibits are woven together, such that without one, you miss the wealth in other.

The pieces from Catherine Opie’s O Portfolio volley to an equally small presentation of Robert Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio at the Getty. At one time, the mere presence of these installations would have been loud and striking. Opie’s close-ups of small details, of black nylon stitching, of unclear body parts are the magnifying glass to Mapplethorpe’s X. With the bulk of Mapplethorpe’s work all around, the X Portfolio seems just as hidden as LACMA’s positioning of the O Portfolio. Sometimes, things in plain sight are hard to see. Images of S&M remain private and with one wrong turn, they’re easy to miss. In this way, X and O mirror each other in their perfectly curated positions of exposed intimacy.